Dead Ends

There are some curious people in Congress, particularly that high school dropout from Cleveland, who was indicted for grand theft auto – not the video game – multiple times. Each time he beat the rap. He’s a smooth-talker, although he did once receive six months of probation, when he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, without registration or permit. This would be Darrell Issa – on his seventeenth birthday he dropped out of high school and enlisted for three years in the Army. Somehow he became an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, trained to defuse nasty bombs, and claimed his unit provided security for President Nixon, sweeping stadiums for bombs before the 1971 World Series. Nixon didn’t attend any of that year’s World Series games, but Issa’s unit did perform security sweeps for the World Series. He exaggerated. After the World Series, Issa was transferred to a supply depot – poor ratings from his superiors – and there a fellow soldier claimed Issa stole his Dodge Charger – “I confronted Issa. I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared the next day, abandoned on the turnpike.” No charges were ever filed. Issa says it never happened.

Issa did go back to Cleveland and got his high-school equivalency diploma and was off to Kent State – not the real one, the one at Stark – and he joined the ROTC there, so he eventually ended up in the Army Reserve. Just before his discharge in 1980 he was indicted on charges of grand theft auto. Issa said it was a misunderstanding. He just bought the damned car, so the charges were dropped. There was also the hit-and-run thing. Issa crashed a truck he was driving into a woman’s car and, according to court records he told her that he just didn’t have the time to wait for the police. He had things to do. He left the scene. She sued him for twenty grand. They eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The whole thing went away. All records of that are sealed.

It’s odd that this fellow made it to Congress, but after all this unpleasantness Darrell Issa hooked up with the right electronics people and eventually made a fortune in car alarms, the ones with a speaker with Issa’s own voice – “Protected by Viper!” – “Stand back!” – “Please step away from the car!” Everyone remembers those, and the company grew by leaps and bounds, and it is headquartered out here in Vista, down in North County, San Diego. That’s where Issa became a severely conservative Republican congressman, and that’s his congressional district – Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad and Encinitas – next door to Duncan Hunter’s district.

Everyone is severely conservative down there. Liberals are told to turn around and drive back to Los Angeles. Issa is also the wealthiest currently-serving member of Congress. He must know things, anyone that rich must know things, and in 2008 was appointed ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, leapfrogging over more than a few senior Republicans. He became the House Republicans’ bulldog, launching investigations into one scandal after another that would surely bring down Obama, forcing Obama to resign in disgrace.

That didn’t work out. The Fast and Furious gun-running scandal turned out to be about a secret operation the Bush administration had set up, that the Obama administration was trying to shut down. The IRS scandal wasn’t a scandal either – the IRS was denying tax-exempt status to odd liberal “public service” organizations too, not just the Tea Party folks. None of these groups should lie about not being purely political, to avoid taxes. The IRS was picking on everybody. That’s what they were supposed to do, and then Benghazi didn’t work out either. Barack and Hillary didn’t tell our military to stand down, because they wanted our ambassador and those three others to die, because Barack sympathizes with all terrorists and Hillary is incompetent and kind of likes to see our people die. It was a tragic screw-up, with the CIA and State Department not talking to each other. That can be fixed. There was nowhere to go with that, but Issa kept stirring the pot, which was a bit embarrassing. John Boehner took the matter out of Issa’s hands, setting up a Select Committee to look into all things Benghazi. It hasn’t convened yet. It may never convene. About the only thing that Issa has going for him now is that Bill Maher sometimes invites Issa to be one of the three panelists on his HBO show Real Time. Maher finds him amusing, but that means that Issa has to drive up here to Los Angeles. The Maher show is taped at CBS Television City, just down the hill here on Fairfax. That’s enemy territory.

Darrell Issa has met a dead end, but he won’t accept that. There’s always a scandal, or there should be because Obama is who he is and Democrats are still Democrats, and now Issa is accusing the EPA of working too closely with environmental groups. He’s appalled, and this is about a report from the New York Times about the “cozy” relationship between EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and David Doniger, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Republicans say the most vivid example of a cozy relationship is an email exchange … celebrating legal maneuvering that provided Mr. Obama with something both the EPA and the environmental group wanted: a court-ordered deadline for release of a 2012 EPA regulation curbing greenhouse gas emissions on future power plants – a precursor to Mr. Obama’s announcement in June. (The environmental group had joined with others to sue the EPA to force the regulation, and the EPA quickly settled.)

On Dec. 23, 2010, the day the settlement was announced, Mr. Doniger emailed Ms. McCarthy, “Thank you for today’s announcement. I know how hard you and your team are working to move us forward and keep us on the rails. This announcement is a major achievement.” He added, “We’ll be with you at every step in the year ahead.”

Ms. McCarthy responded, “Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience. Enjoy the holiday. The success is yours as much as mine.”

Issa sees this as a smoking gun, but Kevin Drum doesn’t:

Explosive! “Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience.” Truly a smoking gun of improper influence! They used first names and everything!

Issa must really be getting desperate. I mean, normally I understand the supposed malfeasance in his investigations. I may think his charges are foolish, but at least I get it. But this time? Even in theory, what’s supposed to be wrong here? An environmental group expressing pleasure at a court ruling? The EPA administrator sending back a polite note? Everybody knew all along that both sides wanted the same thing, so this is hardly a surprise. And certainly light years from scandalous.

Issa must be going off his nut because his investigations keep failing to excite anyone. Or maybe this is just designed to provide some fodder for fundraising emails for the upcoming election. It’s hard to figure out what else could be going on.

It may be hard to figure out what else could be going on, but there’s a lot of this going on. All it takes is a little bit of something, like C. J. Chivers of the New York Times with a new piece, a backgrounder to tie up loose ends, about chemical weapons found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion:

The soldiers at the blast crater sensed something was wrong.

It was August 2008 near Taji, Iraq. They had just exploded a stack of old Iraqi artillery shells buried beside a murky lake. The blast, part of an effort to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs, uncovered more shells.

Two technicians assigned to dispose of munitions stepped into the hole. Lake water seeped in. One of them, Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, noticed a pungent odor, something, he said, he had never smelled before.

He lifted a shell. Oily paste oozed from a crack. “That doesn’t look like pond water,” said his team leader, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling.

The specialist swabbed the shell with chemical detection paper. It turned red – indicating sulfur mustard, the chemical warfare agent designed to burn a victim’s airway, skin and eyes.

All three men recall an awkward pause. Then Sergeant Duling gave an order: “Get the hell out.”

Five years after President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq these soldiers had entered an expansive but largely secret chapter of America’s long and bitter involvement in Iraq.

That’s how it opens. The piece is very long. Cleaning up this crap was dangerous. Some of our guys died. The Bush administration kept this quiet, but that led to items like this:

Even when it publishes a detailed investigative report that basically says George W. Bush was right in stating there were dangerous weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s Iraq – even when its own reporters reveal the truth about Saddam Hussein’s deadly chemical weapons stockpiles – the New York Times tries to vilify President Bush by essentially rewriting history and ignoring present danger.

Splashed across the front page of Tuesday’s Times is an article that repeatedly makes clear that one of President Bush’s main, stated reasons for invading Iraq post-9/11 was legitimate. There were WMDs – chemical weapons, lots of them – hidden in Iraq and discovered by our troops. …

In the ongoing attempt to “blame Bush” and cast the former president in a negative historical light, the Times piece attempts to condemn the Bush administration for, essentially, covering up the existence of those WMDs, thus leading to risk and injury for military personnel who found them and were involved in their destruction.

Brad Dayspring, a Republican explainer-of-all-things and a former aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor argues here that “those who mocked any statement that there were WMDs in Iraq were/are wrong.” At the conservative Media Research Center there were other triumphant tweets too, including this one – “Every single thing media told us about Iraq and WMD was wrong.”

Again, Kevin Drum is not impressed:

This is ridiculous enough that – so far, at least – the savvier wing of the conservative movement is staying mum about the whole thing. There are three main reasons for this. First, most of these weapons were rotting remnants of artillery shells used during the Iraq-Iran war in the 80s and stored at Iraq’s Muthanna State Establishment as well as other nearby sites.

Drum says Murtaza Hussain of the Intercept explains what this means:

The U.S. was aware of the existence of such weapons at the Al Muthanna site as far back as 1991. Why? Because Al Muthanna was the site where the UN ordered Saddam Hussein to dispose of his declared chemical munitions in the first place – those weapons that could not safely be destroyed were sealed and left to decay on their own, which they did. The site was neither “active” nor “clandestine” – it was a declared munitions dump being used to hold the corroded weapons which Western powers themselves had in most cases helped Saddam procure.

Drum:

In other words, these shells weren’t evidence of an active WMD program, which had been George Bush’s justification for the war. They were simply old munitions that everyone knew about already and that were being left to degrade on their own.

Second, the Bush administration kept its discoveries secret. If any of this were truly evidence for an active WMD program, surely Bush and Dick Cheney would have been the first to trumpet the news. The fact that they didn’t is pretty plain evidence that there was nothing here to back up their prewar contentions of an Iraqi WMD program.

Third, there’s the specific reason these discoveries were kept secret.

That’s where Chivers adds useful detail:

Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong… Others pointed to another embarrassment. In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.

Drum:

Far from being a smoking gun of Saddam Hussein’s continuing quest for illegal WMDs, these discoveries were evidence that Western powers in the 80s were perfectly happy to supply illegal WMDs to an ally as long as they were destined for use against Iran. This was not something Bush was eager to acknowledge.

And there’s more:

Iraq had no active WMD program, and it was an embarrassment to the Bush administration that all they could find were old, rotting chemical weapons originally manufactured by the West – so they kept it a secret, even from troops in the field and military doctors. But lies beget lies, and American troops are the ones who paid the price. According to Chivers “the government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.”

Today, the consequences of our lies continue to haunt us as the rotting carcasses of these weapons are apparently falling into the hands of ISIS. Unfortunately, no mere summary can do justice to this entire shameful episode.

Jessica Schulberg adds perspective:

The existence of aging chemical weapons in Iraq was never the justification for Bush’s invasion, nor was it a secret. The secret was the harm that they were causing to U.S. troops and the subsequent failure to care for these individuals.

That story warrants attention. It’s just not the story the right was hoping for, and Derrell Issa is out of luck again – but of course this has nothing to do with Obama, so he won’t run with this.

But the New York Times is not done with their backgrounders. Now it’s Mark Mazzetti with this:

The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history – from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba. The continuing CIA effort to train Syrian rebels is just the latest example of an American president becoming enticed by the prospect of using the spy agency to covertly arm and train rebel groups.

An internal CIA study has found that it rarely works.

The still-classified review, one of several CIA studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.

The findings of the study, described in recent weeks by current and former American government officials, were presented in the White House Situation Room and led to deep skepticism among some senior Obama administration officials about the wisdom of arming and training members of a fractured Syrian opposition.

The intelligence community was quite clear over a year ago that the idea of arming Syria’s “moderate rebels” was unworkable:

“One of the things that Obama wanted to know was: Did this ever work?” said one former senior administration official who participated in the debate and spoke anonymously because he was discussing a classified report. The CIA report, he said, “was pretty dour in its conclusions.” … The CIA review, according to several former American officials familiar with its conclusions, found that the agency’s aid to insurgencies had generally failed in instances when no Americans worked on the ground with the foreign forces in the conflict zones, as is the administration’s plan for training Syrian rebels.

Send in the troops, lots of them, to show these guys how to fight, by fighting alongside them, showing them how it’s done – or forget it. That’s what the CIA said. We’re now, finally, sending the “moderates” aid, and arms, but not the troops to fight alongside them, as role models of a sort. Did this ever work? No, it doesn’t, and Andrew Sullivan is stunned:

Did this stop the program of arming the rebels? Of course not! Even when the CIA itself argues against such a crazy idea, the underlying pro-intervention paradigm holds – always. Something bad happens anywhere in the world and Washington is addicted to its own fantasy of being able to fix it. Obama went ahead anyway – but with apparent reluctance. That could not be said of Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, John McCain and David Petraeus, the unreconstructed liberal/neocon hegemonists, who were passionately in favor of a proxy war that even the CIA opposed.

That’s worth knowing as we face the grim prospect of a future Clinton administration.

PM Carpenter sees it this way:

Had George W. Bush earnestly and patiently listened in 2002 and 2003 to all his intelligence officials, he never would have gone into Iraq. Four-thousand-four-hundred-eighty-nine Americans, tens of thousands of Iraqis and at least a trillion dollars would have been spared. A decade later, on the precarious matter of arming Syrian rebels, President Obama did listen to all his intelligence officials. Their empirical findings were pessimistic, and thus he rejected the interventionist advice of his then-secretaries of state and defense, as well as that of his CIA director.

And then he didn’t, because he couldn’t:

Beheadings and political pressure have forced Obama to an official reversal of policy. But it’s significant that he seems to be slow-walking training and arms materiel for Syrian rebels. … His reluctance appears to be holding. Present circumstances, no matter how ominous, don’t change empirical findings.

That, however, is cold comfort:

We are left, then, with the distressing question of why (probably) the next president of the United States advised the current president of the United Stated to intervene on behalf of Syrian rebels either in the absence of the CIA’s imminent conclusions (Mrs. Clinton left the secretary of state’s office in early 2013) or indeed in the “dour” presence of those conclusions. If all the CIA’s findings hadn’t yet come in by the time of Hillary’s departure, then she was offering somewhat blind advice. And if the findings were in, then she was offering advice in contravention of what intelligence officials were warning.

Remind you of any other US president?

Sullivan:

Hint: He was in favor of the same war Hillary was in 2003. And she didn’t even read the full intelligence report back then either.

Here we go again. Obama doesn’t want to be George Bush so he’s slow-walking this, but then he is sort of walking this, and Hillary Clinton seems to want to be Bush. She’ll run with this. President Ted Cruz, or any Republican, will run even faster, and at the moment this could be the next big scandal. Obama foolishly didn’t listen to the experts, who told him go big or go home – there’s nothing in-between. What’s wrong with Obama? Darrell Issa should hold hearings!

That, however, could be another dead end. The country might not be ready for a third major war in the Middle East again, now, even if they’re not quite ready to go home, as an alternative to going big. Even if they don’t know it, Obama is probably doing what most Americans want, doing something – not much, and maybe the wrong thing – but doing something vaguely likely and hoping for the best. When public opinion removes the polar alternative there’s no scandal in mucking about in the middle, unless you make stuff up.

That’s been known to happen:

Conservative legal activist Larry Klayman has filed a lawsuit against President Obama for “providing material support and aid to international terrorism and facilitating terrorism” by not implementing a travel ban on people from countries facing an Ebola outbreak.

Health experts have advised against enacting a travel ban, explaining that such a move might actually increase the risk of an outbreak, but Klayman has his own idea as to why the Obama administration hasn’t enacted a ban: anti-white racism.

Klayman writes in his weekly column that “Obama has favored his African brothers over the rest of us by allowing them free entry into this country” and “relegating whites and others who are not black or Muslim to the back of the bus has become an invidious form of reverse discrimination. This was not right when blacks were subjected to this treatment, and it is not right now – particularly given its deadly implications.”

“I do not advocate violence, and I want Obama to be taken alive to be deported and pay for his inadequacies under the rule of law,” Klayman writes. “But he must be forced from office as soon as possible, before all is lost.”

Klayman doesn’t want violence. That’s awfully white of him, but this one is just one more dead end. This lawsuit is preposterous.

Klayman should talk to Derrell Issa, the car thief who made a fortune offering others protection from car thieves. You can talk a good game. You can dazzle folks and confuse matters so no one knows quite what’s what. You can cloud men’s minds like The Shadow used to do – “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” But there are dead ends. Sometimes there is no evil and you end up looking like a fool. Derrell Issa is slowly learning that, even if that’s a work in progress.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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